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Climbing for a purpose

Annual Lambeau Field stair climb honors fallen FDNY firefighters

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August 23, 2023

GREEN BAY – For the 11th year, Pierce and the Green Bay Metro Fire Department are once again hosting its annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Lambeau Field Saturday, Sept. 9 – aimed at honoring the 343 FDNY (Fire Department New York) firefighters that lost their lives at the World Trade Center (WTC) during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The climb has become ingrained into the culture at Pierce,” Aaron Zak, a fire suppression product specialist with Pierce Manufacturing, said. “When you walk through the halls, you see pictures from past climb events everywhere. Many employees keep the badges with the name and photograph of one of the fallen firefighters at their workstations or toolboxes.”

Zak – who was nine years old and in third grade in 2001 – said a “significant number” of Pierce employees either volunteer for or participate in the climb.

All proceeds from the event go to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to provide resources to assist their survivors in rebuilding their lives and working within the fire service community to reduce firefighter deaths.

Being a volunteer firefighter himself, Zak – who has done the stair climb three times – said the events of 9/11 “hit home.”

“I grew up in the fire service with my grandpa, dad, uncles and many cousins who have served, or are currently serving their communities within various roles in fire departments,” he said.

Zak said he started as a volunteer firefighter in high school and continued through college and beyond.

The stair climb honors the 343 fallen FDNY firefighters who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. Photo Courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing

“I’ve been in that role for 14 years now,” he said. “I’ve been with the Greenville Fire Department coming up on six years, serving as a firefighter.”

Working at Pierce, Zak said, ties into the stair climb because they get to work with firefighters daily.

“We support the NFFF because there are risks in the work a firefighter does each day,” he said. “There is some peace in knowing if something were to happen to them, the organization would be there to support their families.”

Hearing from participants
Participants from all over the country attempt the climb, but many are from Northeast Wisconsin – including Erin Mueller, whose husband is a volunteer firefighter with the Algoma Fire Department (AFD).

“Something we do at the AFD is the Ladies Auxiliary,” she said. “It’s a fun group of women who support the members. If there is a fire call that might be 12 hours, we start a text string to coordinate bringing water, food, etc. – it’s a support system. It’s the second family you didn’t know you needed but you’re grateful you have.”

Like Zak, Mueller said she vividly remembers that tragic day almost 22 years ago.

“Everyone has some sort of tie to 9/11 – maybe not personally, but it was a tragedy that happened in history, so it’s important to show everyone it’s not something to be forgotten,” she said. “I was in the sixth grade.”

For her generation, Mueller said, “that was the day the world stopped.”

Many participating firefighters, like this one from the Reedsville Fire Department, complete the stair climb in full gear, which can weigh up to 75 pounds. Photo Courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing

Mueller said the upcoming stair climb will be AFD’s fifth year participating.

“Our group grows a bit every year,” she said. “We’ll have five or six firefighters doing the climb in full gear. You have to think about what the people went through that day. Firefighters run into (a burning building) while we run out.”

Mueller, whose group wears custom-made T-shirts, said the climb is a mixture of somber emotions before/during the event and fun times upon completion.

“There’s not a dry eye in the group during the opening ceremonies,” she said.

Mueller said she does her best to thank the firefighters she sees during the event.

“My group gets tired of me saying it, but every time I see a firefighter, I always say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” she said. “You can tell it means something to them. Now, the other members of our group say it – it sounds like a chorus of chirping birds.”

“Pierce does an amazing job coordinating the stair climb,” Mueller said. “The number of volunteers they have is awesome. Sometimes, I think volunteering is dying out, so it’s great to see so many people helping.”

Miron Construction, the official provider of construction services for the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field, also sends a team of climbers/volunteers to the annual event.

Each participant carries with them an honor badge with the name and photograph of one of the fallen FDNY firefighters. Photo Courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing
“We’ve sent a team since 2017,” Meredith Baciak, wellness coordinator and QPR suicide prevention facilitator at Miron, said. “One of Miron’s core values is ‘rally together,’ which encompasses why we do the stair climb. Getting involved and responding to urgency is what we do – family and community come first with Miron.”

Baciak said the QPR – question, persuade, refer – suicide prevention program Miron incorporates into its wellness program “ties in with the stair climb, too.”

“Those are the three steps anyone can learn to prevent suicide,” she said. “Suicide numbers are high in the construction industry, so by doing the climb, we are recognizing the benefits of sound physical/mental health of our employees.”

Baciak said the national average of suicides per 100,000 people in the United States is 14, while that number skyrockets to five times that much for construction workers.

“That number is 53.4 per 100,000,” she said. “It’s a male-dominated field, and sometimes the sharing of feelings and admitting you are struggling is held in and put on the back burner. That’s why we encourage all of our employees to do events like this – it’s good for your physical and mental health.”

Baciak, who didn’t do the climb last year because she had both of her knees replaced, said “it will be a game-time decision this year.”

“My family does it every year,” she said. “I have two daughters – one in college and one is a freshman in high school. Every year, we relive 9/11. (My daughters) are intrigued to learn more about it and learn about the firefighters – it’s a way to keep the memory going.”

Baciak said it’s also special doing the event inside Lambeau Field because of Miron’s ties to the Packers.

“With Miron being the official provider for the Packers, anytime we can spend time being in the stadium and climbing the iconic steps inside Lambeau, it’s a good thing,” she said. “And the fact we can do that in support of a worthy charity is rewarding.”

Climbing for the fallen
The event, held rain or shine, simulates what it was like to walk/climb the 110 stories of the WTC towers in the aftermath of the attacks.

Other highlights of the Lambeau Field stair climb include:

The climbing route is one full lap of Lambeau Field.Participants start in waves of 343 climbers – the number of FDNY firefighters who died at the WTC.Upon check-in, participants receive an honor badge with the name and photograph of one of the fallen FDNY firefighters.The event starts with an opening ceremony consisting of a guest speaker, the Green Bay Honor Guard and a bagpiper.The event is not timed, so participants can walk/climb at their leisure and climb to any desired level.At the equivalent of the 78th floor of the WTC towers, which is the highest floor firefighters reached on 9/11, each climber rings the fire bell in honor of the fallen firefighter on his or her badge.For those who chose not to climb, there is a spectator area inside Lambeau Field where folks can cheer on participants.
To find more information, register or make an online donation, visit

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